Did you ever watch Who’s the Boss with Tony Danza and Judith Light? There are so many classic episodes, but the one that sprung to mind recently was the episode when Angela tried a ‘positive parenting’ approach and never said No (S7e7). Parents are always trying to figure out what will work with their kids, as well as what works for them.
Anyway, that’s sort of the approach that I took with trio. Instead of giving an outright no, I’d try to reframe their request with what they *could* do in my response to their question. I found, when they were small, that it helped to hear what was possible, rather than just shutting down their desire with a flat out No – unless it was unsafe or there was a bigger issue at play. But on the day-to-day, I didn’t want them to be brutally rebuffed at every question (because man, don’t they ask a lot in a day!) – I was worried about tantrums and rebelliousness (ergo it was easier for me too).
My teenager is now actually asking to be told no. When he asks for a Nutella sandwich after dinner and before bed, I tell him what he can have instead (cheese, banana, peanut butter, etc). And his retort is “A No would have sufficed…” But I KNOW that his next question will be an exasperated “Well! What *can* I have then??” Part of parenting is always being wrong (but geez, I totally thought the best part of parenting was always being right!! Sigh.)
Peeking under the surface of this exchange, I hear him asking for clearer boundaries. Since I’ve never had a teenager before, I’m open to learning alongside him and striving to figure out what this means for me as his parent. Maybe there is problem solving that I’m inadvertently denying him. By supplying the answer to his unasked question (What can I have then??) I have prevented him from taking the next step in his own path of discovery. And really, the food-snack issue is just an analogy for other ways in which I’m precluding his self-awareness. It’s about food just now, but soon he’ll need to uncover his own path about social relationships, time management, finances, and other adult-y things. He practices with these smaller issues so he can better navigate those more challenging pieces of life.
There will be times that he might need my support in decision making and those times would be appropriate for me to ask questions, rather than giving conversation-stopping-negatives or supply him with an unrequested answer. I’ll hold out for those moments and Just Say No when it makes sense.
As always, I’m so grateful that he’s my first. He’s been so great with articulating himself so I can hear and learn these sticky webs that we’re all trying to navigate.